Eight U.S. states, including California and Massachusetts, announced on Wednesday that they had launched a bipartisan, nationwide probe of TikTok, focusing on whether the popular video-sharing app causes physical or mental health harm to young people.
The probe will also look at what the company knew about its role in perpetuating those harms.
“The investigation focuses, among other things, on the methods and techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including increasing the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said in a statement.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, said in a statement that it “focused on the safety of younger users” and limits features by age.
“We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens,” the statement said.
The company had said in early February that it was working on ways to rate and restrict content by age in order to prevent adult content from reaching teenage users of its short video app.
The attorneys general already have a probe open into Facebook’s parent Meta Platforms Inc FB.O, regarding its subsidiary Instagram, which has also come under intense scrutiny over the potential impact of their services on the mental health and online safety of young users.
The investigation is being led by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont and are joined by others, according to a statement from the Tennessee attorney general’s office.
President Joe Biden addressed the issue of social media harms in his State of the Union address to congress on Tuesday night, noting that children were struggling before the pandemic partially because of the popular online apps.
“We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” he said in calling for stronger privacy protections for children and a ban on targeted advertising to them.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bernard Orr)